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College and university faculty teach and advise over 15 million full- and part- time college students and perform a significant part of our Nation's research. They also study and meet with colleagues to keep up with developments in their field and consult with government, business, nonprofit, and community organizations.
Faculty generally are organized into departments or divisions, based on subject or field. They usually teach several different courses in their department-algebra, calculus, and differential equations, for example. They may instruct undergraduate or graduate students, or both.
College and university faculty may give lectures to several hundred students in large halls, lead small seminars, or supervise students in laboratories. They prepare lectures, exercises, and laboratory experiments, grade exams and papers, and advise and work with students individually. In universities, they counsel, advise, teach, and supervise graduate student teaching and research. Technology is increasingly used in the classroom as well as in research. Faculty may use computers-including the Internet, electronic mail, and CD-ROMs-videotapes, and other teaching aids. Some professors may teach "satellite" courses that are broadcast to students through closed-circuit or cable television. New technology permits the collaboration and sharing of classes between institutions.
Faculty keep abreast of developments in their field by reading current literature, talking with colleagues, and participating in professional conferences. They also do their own research to expand knowledge in their field. They experiment, collect and analyze data, and examine original documents, literature, and other source material. From this, they develop hypotheses, arrive at conclusions, and publish their findings in scholarly journals, books, and electronic media.
Most faculty members serve on academic or administrative committees which deal with the policies of their institution, departmental matters, academic issues, curricula, budgets, equipment purchases, and hiring. Some work with student as well as community organizations. Department chairpersons are faculty members who usually teach some courses but generally have heavier administrative responsibilities.
The amount of time spent on each of these activities varies by individual circumstance and type of institution. Faculty members at universities generally spend a significant part of their time doing research; those in 4-year colleges, somewhat less; and those in 2-year colleges, relatively little. However, the teaching load usually is heavier in 2-year colleges and somewhat lower at 4-year institutions.
College faculty generally have flexible schedules. They must be present for classes, usually 12 to 16 hours a week, and for faculty and committee meetings. Most establish regular office hours for student consultations, usually 3 to 6 hours per week. Otherwise, faculty have some flexibility to decide when and where they will work, and how much time to devote to course preparation, grading papers and exams, study, research, graduate student supervision, and other activities. Initial adjustment to these responsibilities can be challenging as new faculty adapt to switching roles from student to teacher. This adjustment may be even more difficult as class size grows in response to faculty and budget cutbacks, increasing an instructor's workload.
Some faculty members work staggered hours and teach classes at night and on weekends. This is particularly true for faculty who teach students with full-time jobs or family responsibilities on weekdays. Most faculty are employed on a 9-month contract. This provides them with great flexibility during the summer and school holidays, when they may teach or do research, travel, or pursue nonacademic interests. Most colleges and universities have funds to support faculty research or other professional development needs, including travel to conferences and research sites.
Faculty may experience a conflict between their responsibilities to teach students and the pressure to do research. This may be a particular problem for young faculty seeking advancement. Increasing emphasis on undergraduate teaching performance in tenure decisions may alleviate some of this pressure, however.
Part-time faculty generally spend little time on campus, because they usually don't have an office. In addition, they may teach at more than one college, requiring travel between their various places of employment. Colleges increasingly rely on part-time faculty to stretch shrinking budgets. Part-time faculty are usually not eligible for tenure. Dealing with this lack of job security and low pay can be stressful.
College and university faculty held about 823,000 jobs in 1994, mostly in public institutions.
About 4 out of 10 college and university faculty work part time. Some part-timers, known as "adjunct faculty," have primary jobs outside of academia-in government, private industry, or in nonprofit research-and teach "on the side." Others seek full-time jobs but are unable to obtain them due to intense competition for available openings. Some work part time in more than one institution.
Most college and university faculty are in four academic ranks: Professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and instructor. A small number are lecturers.
Most faculty members are hired as instructors or assistant professors. Four-year colleges and universities generally only consider doctoral degree holders for full-time, tenure-track positions, but may hire master's degree holders or doctoral candidates for certain disciplines, such as the arts, or for part-time and temporary jobs. In 2-year colleges, master's degree holders often qualify for full-time positions. However, with increasing competition for available jobs, institutions can be more selective in their hiring practices. Master's degree holders may find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment as they are passed over in favor of candidates holding a Ph.D.
Doctoral programs usually take 6 to 8 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree (including time spent completing a master's degree and a dissertation). Some programs, such as the humanities, may take longer to complete; others, such as engineering, generally are shorter. Candidates usually specialize in a subfield of a discipline-for example, organic chemistry, counseling psychology, or European history-but also take courses covering the whole discipline. Programs include 20 or more increasingly specialized courses and seminars plus comprehensive examinations on all major areas of the field. Candidates also must complete a dissertation. This is a report on original research to answer some significant question in the field; it sets forth an original hypothesis or proposes a model and tests it. Students in the natural sciences and engineering usually do laboratory work; in the humanities, they study original documents and other published material. The dissertation, done under the guidance of one or more faculty advisors, usually takes 1 or 2 years of full-time work.
In some fields, particularly the natural sciences, some students spend an additional 2 years on postdoctoral research and study before taking a faculty position.
A major step in the traditional academic career is attaining tenure. Newly hired tenure-track faculty serve a certain period (usually 7 years) under term contracts. Then, their record of teaching, research, and overall contribution to the institution is reviewed; tenure is granted if the review is favorable. With tenure, a professor cannot be fired without just cause and due process. Those denied tenure usually must leave the institution. Tenure protects the faculty's academic freedom-the ability to teach and conduct research without fear of being fired for advocating unpopular ideas. It also gives both faculty and institutions the stability needed for effective research and teaching, and provides financial stability for faculty members. About 6 out of 10 full-time faculty are tenured, and many others are in the probationary period. Some institutions have adopted post-tenure review policies to encourage ongoing evaluation of tenured faculty members.
The number of tenure-track positions is expected to decline. Some institutions have placed "caps" on the percentage of faculty that can be tenured. Other institutions offer prospective faculty limited term contracts-typically 2-, 3-, or 5-year full-time contracts-in an effort to adapt to changes in the budget and the size of the student body. These contracts may be terminated or extended at the end of the period. Institutions are not obligated to grant tenure to these contract holders.
Some faculty-based on teaching experience, research, publication, and service on campus committees and task forces-move into administrative and managerial positions, such as departmental chairperson, dean, and president. At 4-year institutions, such advancement requires a doctoral degree. At 2-year colleges, a doctorate is helpful but not generally required, except for advancement to some top administrative postitions. (Deans and departmental chairpersons are covered in the Handbook statement on education administrators, while college presidents are included in the Handbook statement on general managers and top executives.)
College faculty need intelligence, inquiring and analytical minds, and a strong desire to pursue and disseminate knowledge. They must be able to communicate clearly and logically, both orally and in writing. They should be able to establish rapport with students and, as models for them, be dedicated to the principles of academic integrity and intellectual honesty. Finally, they must be able to work in an environment where they receive little direct supervision.
Employment of college and university faculty is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as enrollments in higher education increase. Many additional openings will arise as faculty members retire. Faculty retirements should increase significantly from the late 1990s through 2005 as a large number of faculty who entered the profession during the 1950s and 1960s reach retirement age. Most faculty members likely to retire are full-time tenured professors. However, in an effort to cut costs, institutions are expected to either leave many of these positions vacant or hire part-time faculty members as replacements. Prospective job applicants should be prepared to face intense competition for available jobs as growing numbers of Ph.D. graduates vie for fewer full-time openings.
Enrollments in institutions of higher education increased in the 1980s and early 1990s despite a decline in the traditional college-age (18-24) population. This resulted from a higher proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college, along with a growing number of part-time, female, and older students. Enrollments are expected to continue to grow through the year 2005, particularly as the traditional college-age population begins increasing after 1996, when the leading edge of the baby-boom "echo" generation (children of the baby boomers) reaches college age (see accompanying chart).
In the past two decades, keen competition for faculty jobs forced some applicants to accept part-time or short-term academic appointments that offered little hope of tenure, and others to seek nonacademic positions. This trend of hiring adjunct or part-time faculty is likely to continue due to financial difficulties faced by colleges and universities. Many States have reduced funding for higher education. As a result, colleges have increased the hiring of part-time faculty to save money on pay and benefits. With uncertainty over future funding, many colleges and universities are taking steps to cut costs. They are emphasizing certain academic programs while eliminating others, increasing class size, stepping up fundraising efforts, and closely monitoring expenses.
Once enrollments and retirements start increasing at a faster pace in the late 1990s, opportunities for college faculty positions may begin to improve somewhat. Job prospects will continue to be better in certain fields-business, engineering, health science, computer science, physical sciences, and mathematics, for example-largely because very attractive nonacademic jobs will be available for many potential faculty.
Employment of college faculty is related to the nonacademic job market through an "echo effect." Excellent job prospects in a field-for example, computer science from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s-cause more students to enroll, increasing faculty needs in that field. On the other hand, poor job prospects in a field, such as history in recent years, discourages students and reduces demand for faculty.
Earnings vary according to faculty rank and type of institution and, in some cases, by field. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries, on the average, than those in 2-year schools. According to a 1994-95 survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full-time faculty on 9-month contracts averaged $49,500. By rank, the average for professors was $63,500; associate professors, $47,000; assistant professors, $39,100; lecturers, $32,600; and instructors, $29,700. Those on 11- or 12-month contracts obviously earned more. In fields with high-paying nonacademic alternatives-notably medicine and law but also engineering and business, among others-earnings exceed these averages. In others-the fine arts, for example-they are lower.
Many faculty members have added earnings, both during the academic year and the summer, from consulting, teaching additional courses, research, writing for publication, or other employment.
Most college and university faculty enjoy some unique benefits, including access to campus facilities, tuition waivers for dependents, housing and travel allowances, and paid sabbatical leaves. Part-time faculty have fewer benefits than full-time faculty, and usually do not receive health insurance, retirement benefits, or sabbatical leave.
College and university faculty function both as teachers and researchers. They communicate information and ideas. Related occupations include elementary and secondary school teachers, librarians, writers, consultants, lobbyists, trainers and employee development specialists, and policy analysts. Faculty research activities often are similar to those of scientists, as well as managers and administrators in industry, government, and nonprofit research organizations.
Professional societies generally provide information on academic and nonacademic employment opportunities in their fields. Names and addresses of these societies appear in statements elsewhere in the Handbook.
For information about faculty union activities on 2- and 4-year college campuses, contact:
American Federation of Teachers, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
Special publications on higher education, available in libraries, list specific employment opportunities for faculty.
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